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Judaism: Tradition and Change. Distinctive characteristics. Dialogical Jewish history is “a continuing dialogue with God” rooted in a covenant Both sides—people and God—participate Often takes the form of argument in the Bible and rabbinic writings

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Judaism:Tradition and Change


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Distinctive characteristics

  • Dialogical

    • Jewish history is “a continuing dialogue with God” rooted in a covenant

    • Both sides—people and God—participate

      • Often takes the form of argument in the Bible and rabbinic writings

    • The dialogue is grounded in each side’s obligations to covenant

  • Adaptive

    • Has changed, radically at times, to accommodate new cultures and new challenges while preserving essential tradition

  • Ortho-praxis (“right practice”)

    • Focus on keeping mitzvot (commandments) as expression of covenant

    • Doctrine can vary widely


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“Passion for Meaning”

  • “The real impact of the ancient Jews, however, lies in the extent to which Western civilization took over their angle of vision on the deepest questions life poses” (Smith, 271).


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Worldviews in Religion

  • Theism

    • “cosmos is a divine creation which reveals God’s glory” (55)

    • Essentially good, but may be marred by hostile forces (55)

    • Full of signs of God’s goodness and purpose (55), in both nature and history

    • God continuously guides and sustains the cosmos (55)

  • Animism; Polytheism

    • Cosmos is full of powers revealed through nature (56)

    • May be one High God above all others

  • Buddhism

    • No beginning point of cosmos; no creator

    • Cosmos is an impermanent, vast series of interconnected events (59)

    • Seeing the world as permanent is a barrier to enlightenment

  • Materialism (ex: Marx)

    • Life can be explained through material causes

    • Concept of God in an invention (60)


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Ancient Israel: Historical setting

  • Developed in Mesopotamia ca. 3000 yrs ago

  • Tiny land, small group of people fighting for survival

    • Surrounded by powerful empires that rise and fall

      • Akkadia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Greece, Rome

  • Yet incredibly influential in Western culture


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Genesis 1:1-2:4

  • Different view of God and world than in Enuma Elish, an ancient Babylonian myth

    • Jews exiled to Babylon 587-539 BCE

  • Enuma Elish

    • world created out of bodies of defeated gods

    • human beings are slaves to the winning gods

  • Genesis 1:


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Key ideas

  • Monotheistic

    • Fundamental statement of belief: Shema Yisrael: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One”

  • Contrasts with other Ancient Near Eastern religions

    • Had multiple deities, consorts, were more like humans

    • Also had fertility gods and rituals; Creator might be hostile

  • In contrast, Israel’s God is different from humans

    • not male (no consort)

    • Always draws contrast (“Am I a man, that I should lie?”)

    • Calls humans to higher moral standards

  • But, cares deeply about people


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Covenant

  • Central idea in Judaism

    • God is revealed in history

    • History has an end goal, is meaningful

    • Belief is lived out practically

  • Covenants in Judaism

    • God with Noah

    • God with Abraham (Gen 12, 15, 17)

    • Big one: God with Moses and Israel on Mt. Sinai (book of Exodus)


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Exodus Story

  • Central narrative in Judaism

    • Paradigm: continues to interpret new experiences

    • Retold each year in the Seder meal of Passover

      • Remembers past, and interprets present circumstances as an ongoing story of God’s liberation of the oppressed

  • Story that establishes identity

    • Of God as liberator

    • Of Israel as a people of God

    • Of their covenantal relationship: each has obligations


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Seder

  • Haggadah

    • Traditional story, blessings, songs, prayers

    • Yet flexible: many versions

    • Unites past, present, and future

  • Foods: symbols of Exodus story

  • Cup for Elijah

  • Roles for the kids


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Seder, cont.

  • What makes this a ritual?

    • What makes it meaningful?

  • How does it disclose identity:

    • Of Jews (Settings, p. 134, 137)

    • Of God

  • What does it mean for Jews today?


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Ongoing development: Rabbinic Judaism

  • Major crisis: destruction of Jerusalem Temple by Romans in 70 CE

    • Need new ways to practice religion in diaspora, without a geographic center, Temple, or priesthood

    • Rabbis present new adaptable model: study and prayer in the synagogue and at home

  • Focus on study

    • Torah: Hebrew Bible

    • Talmud (400-500 CE) includes:

      • Mishnah (200 CE): record of oral tradition by rabbis

      • Gemara: commentary on Mishnah

      • 613 mitzvot (commandments)

  • Focus on ritual and prayer in home and synagogue

    • Sabbath (shabbat), holidays, keeping mitzvot


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Major change: Reform Judaism

  • Assumption: “Jewish law, halachah, is an historical collection of human responses to the divine.” (“Synagogues,” 100)

    • Redefined Judaism’s place in the modern world (101)

  • Develops in 1800s Germany

    • Time of Enlightenment

      • Belief in universality of truth, known through reason

      • Religion seen as valuable for teaching morals

      • Questioned religious authorities, scriptures

    • Legal changes

      • Emancipation laws give Jews citizenship

      • Many Jews see value in assimilating to European society

  • Adapted rabbinic Judaism to modern life

    • Focus on moral law and social justice

    • Traditions are adaptable

      • keeping kosher, observing Sabbath, studying Torah and Talmud critically



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Movements of Judaism

  • Orthodox

    • About 10% of American Jews

    • Majority of Jews in Europe, Israel

  • Conservative

    • Started in 1913 in U.S. as a middle ground between Reform and Orthodox

    • About 40-43% of American Jews

  • Reform

    • About 35-40% of American Jews

  • Reconstructionist

    • Started in 1967 in U.S.